Toward a Categorical of Cognitive Normativity

Moser, Andrew Paul, Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia
Diamond, Cora, Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia

Recent discussion of the nature of cognitive normativity has tended to be somewhat one-sided, favoring a hypothetical conception according to which the authority of cognitive norms is contingent upon our desires. Largely absent in this discussion is any consideration of the possibility that some cognitive norms might be categorical by virtue of being constitutive of thought. This strategy for explaining the categorical nature of certain cognitive norms, which I will call the constitutive strategy, holds that there are at least some cognitive norms conformity to which is constitutive of one's status as a thinker; such norms would therefore have authority over an individual qua thinker, not qua thinker-desirous-of-x. Although this strategy holds out the prospect of an account of how certain cognitive norms could be categorical, it seems at first glance to face two serious problems. First, if we construe these constitutive norms as basic principles of logic or rationality, as seems most plausible, the constitutive strategy seems to involve an overintellectualized picture of thought that distorts the reality of human cognition: if conformity to basic principles of logic or rationality is constitutive of thought, then much of what passes for thought among human beings doesn't merit the description, since it is clear that human thought often fails to conform to such principles. Second, it is unclear whether the same principles could play both normative and constitutive roles in thought: if a principle is constitutive of thought, then it would seem that one could not fail to think in accordance with it; but if that is the case, it is hard to see how such a principle could be normative. I argue that the constitutive strategy can be adapted to avoid these problems, and that, having adapted it in this way, we have a promising explanation of how certain cognitive norms could be categorical.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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